Well, it's that day. Our oldest son returns to college today to begin his second year at Bethel University. So much has happened in the year that is scarcely seems possible it was over 365 days ago when Claudia and I accompanied our first freshman to Welcome Week (what they call orientation at Bethel). In the past year Kyle has grown up in many ways, but especially relationally. Last year at this time he was anxious, crochety, critical and confused (although he would admit to none of those attributions, I am sure). This year he exhibits peace, a desire to be back but an appreciation for his parents and family that were not evident a year ago at this time. I think he now realizes that he can be successful in college and that his parents are supportive partners in the academic enterprise. Last year I'm not sure the proof was there for him to believe that.
Last year at this time I, too, was anxious, crochety, critical and confused (although I would admit to no more than two of those attributions). I wondered what would become of our connections, how our relationship would improve or decline. I questioned whether Kyle, tasting real independence, would ever really want to be connected to our family in ways other than the financial. I remembered my own departure for college and the raw emotions I felt at that time. And I was fairly convinced that college would change Kyle in less than deliterious ways. I grieved what I perceived as loss for weeks (my wife would say months), muddled in the morass of always wondering what would be the outcome.
This year, however, I don't harbor the same negativities. In fact, I am happy for our son to be back in college where he belongs. The summer has been really a good one in terms of parental and family relationships. While Kyle has never been verbally expressive about emotions, his behavior exhibits appreciation and attachment. For a kid who came to live with us when he was eleven years old, filled with opposition and rage, God is continuing a miraculous process of transformation in his life. He is no longer the edgy, caustic, tense kid he once was. He has been on his own in college for a year, endured (and sometimes thrived) in a summer at home with his family, and now he is ready for a second round.
In May Kyle returned to our family wondering who he was. I believe he was asking himself who he wanted to be and who he wanted to emulate. Would he decide to continue to adopt his family's standards and mores, or would he succumb to other ways of life that were distinct from what his family lived? We began the summer in a shroud of suspicion and reorientation. Through the daily conversations and occasional arguments, I believe Kyle has once again reclaimed the person he wants to be, a person that reflects in many ways the vision of life that Claudia and I have provided for the past seven years. I am grateful for the past three months, because of the opportunities for reconnection and remembering.
So, in a couple of hours we will pack the car with Kyle's belongings and begin the four-hour journey that culminates in year two at Bethel University. I will miss Kyle, of course, but I will remind myself that I am in a much better position that many other parents of eighteen- or nineteen-year-old sons. My son has been able to meet the fairly rigorous academic requirements of a private college. He is choosing a lifestyle compatible with our family's understanding of Christian faith. He is in an institution where he will have the opportunity to be exposed to people of deep Christian integrity and modeling. He will have the opportunity to meet some of the best friends of his life. Those are the positive-positives. On the negative-positive side, I am not a parent who is sending his son off to Iraq, wondering if I will ever see him alive again. I am not a parent whose son is unable (by choice or ability) to achieve a college education. I am not a parent whose son lingers in the hometown working a menial job because of a narrow view of life. I am not the parent of a son who is crippled by chemical addiction or unhealthy relationships. Claudia and I are the parents of a son who is doing just he is supposed to be doing, and doing that fairly well. I couldn't be prouder.
We're returning to college today. One of his will stay, and one of us will go. And I'm not sure who will be happier!